Julia Child: La femme magnifique (why her spirit and life touched me)
Sitting in a Greek outdoor café, I’m eating a spinach pie and savoring the thought of enjoying my rice pudding next. I found a nice place to relax and write after a long walk in the neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, scouting for a charming outdoor place where I can sit and write and not be bothered by the unnecessary strong air conditioning prevalent in your neighborhood Starbucks and other similar knock-offs.
I was just finishing up an autobiography of Julia Child- “My Life in France”- and my love for this passionate, funny woman and her inspirational love of life has prompted me to write about her. All I can think about all day is life in France in the 1940s and FOOD. And not just regular food, oh no no no, but the sophisticated food she mentiones that is characterized by sharp flavors and a variety of sauces and natural ingredients- mmmm.
Meryl Streep characterized Julia’s spirit very well in her 2009 portrayal of Mrs. Child in Julie and Julia. Nora Ephron, a foodie and a passionate woman herself, directed the film. Reading about Julia’s life and bigger-than-life personality was pure joy. Her descriptions of a simpler time, of her yearning to find her calling and her tour-de-romance with France were irresistible.
As most intelligent and well-off young women in America before the 1970s, Julia attended a women’s college and graduated from Smith in 1934. At that time, she had a few options as a working woman and stated that the only two paths open to women who didn’t want a life of a professional wife was doing volunteering/cherity work or engaging in family-sponsored leisure. But she had bigger plans for herself. Her dream was to move to New York City and become a famous female writer. But after no call-backs from major magazine publications, she took on a semi-related job and moved into an apartment very close to where I happen to be living- under the Queensboro Bridge in Queens. I am not surprised that Julia wanted to be a writer. Her witty expressiveness, her eloquent, verbose descriptions and that sharp memory of a 90-year old self recalling her life all showcase her natural talent as a story-teller.
Julia soon left New York for Washington D.C., and joined the government Foreign Service sector as a file clerk and a processor of secret documents. She was stationed abroad in Sri Lanka when she met her most amazing Paul. Paul was born curious about the world, and as a young man, travelled all around Europe and the Far East as an employee on a steam boat. He became a school teacher, and after some time, joined government service. Julia and Paul were a great match. She was the liberal, curious and exuberant daughter of a conservative California Republican and grew up with an innate desire to break away from her comforts, explore and lead a self-fashioned life. Paul was older and cultured; he was a lover of good food, wine and was an enthusiastic artist and a photographer. In him, Julia found a true partner for life- one that shared her enthusiasm for adventure and fulfilling life.
The recently married couple moved to Paris and Julia, never having been to Europe and having only a stereotypical vision of the French, didn’t know what to expect. “Will the men twirl their long, pointy mustaches and pinch women’s derrieres?” she thought. But, soon enough, she fell in love for the second time…with Paris, its people, its way of life. The most delicious (pun intended!) surprise was her amazing discovery of French food. Soon enough, becoming impatient about the need to discover her niche in life, she translated her love of French food towards experimentation, learning and mastering cooking techniques. Many people don’t realize the energy, time and effort she put into becoming the Julia Child we know today. She had to learn French before she could feel part of her new home, before she could learn what is written in recipes and before she could barter with local venders. She put years into her collaboration on a French cookbook for Americans (700 plus) page manual on preparation, how-to and recipes of professional and authentic French food. It took her over 10 years to test, write, rewrite and cut down the cookbook for publication. Once she found her passion, there was no stopping her!
That’s what really inspired me. Julia was never a person that would be satisfied with just a job. She was too big of a person in spirit to live a life devoid of personal satisfaction. She was itching and yearning for a calling all her life, and quite interestingly, once she met Paul, who had lived in Paris and loved French food and wine and who serenaded her with his knowledge and preferences, she discovered what sparked her inner fire. Oh how different her life would have turned out if she hadn’t come with Paul to Paris where she lived a half-decade of what she describes as the best years of her life.
What I love about Julia and her life experience is exactly what I love about “big-hearted people” that desire to dream, think and live bigger. Their personalities are infectious…you see their positive energy and love of life and are immediately drawn to it. You imagine them as your friends, aunts or someone you want close in your life. Their laughter and non-self-conscious personality quirks almost rejuvenate your spirit and your faith in finding truly unique and genuine people. It is these larger-than-life characters that change their surroundings for the better and have the power to leave an impression any field that they choose.
After Julia found her Paul and her passion in life, everything that happened to her was a product of those two loves. Her husband’s support and companionship made her prosper. Her hard work paid off in the success of her two cook-books “Mastering the Art of French Cooking I & II” and her bigger than life character, 6’2 stature and vast knowledge about cooking made her the perfect fit for leading a cooking show.
Reading about Julia’s life journey made me warm and happy. Her reactions to life were genuine and came from a place of openness and desire to satiate curiosity. I think I recognized a lot of myself in Julia. I think we would have been good friends if we grew up at the same place and time! Julia also prompted me to recently make delicious spelt fruit crapes, fish, spinach with Dijon mustard and delicious side-pasta (all my own experiment…thanks, Julia!). Most of all, Julia’s life is an inspiration to find what perpetually inspires you and what you love- both in a partner and in a life calling.
Julia would have celebrated her 100th birthday on August 15th, 2012. Happy birthday, la femme magnifique!